The Obama administration is currently laying out its case to persuade the war weary American public that military force is justified against the standing regime in Syria because President Bashar Assad has supposedly used chemical weapons on his own civilian population in the outskirts of Damascus.
As reprehensible as that accusation may be (and it is not clear if it is correct) there is no compelling U.S. national security interest in interceding in another sectarian civil war in the Middle East.
President Barack Obama’s words have boxed him into a corner; a year ago he said that if chemical weapons were used against a civilian population then President Assad would have crossed “a red line.”
As noble as the intent behind such rhetoric may be, it doesn’t justify U.S. military intervention into a conflict that has turned into an ugly civil war.
There is clearly opposition to President Assad’s rule, but that opposition has now been hijacked by radical Sunni extremists backed by al-Qaida fighters such as the Nusra Front.
To counter those forces, the Syrian government has drawn on Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon who have a strategic interest in protecting President Assad and his minority Alawite rule.
President Barack Obama, having initially come out forcefully for punitive strikes against Syrian forces has watched as the British Parliament vetoed Prime Minister David Cameron’s request to have British forces participate alongside the United States in Syria.
President Obama has now decided to push for a clear mandate from Congress before commencing with “targeted” airstrikes, which would not be aimed at changing the balance of power in the civil war or regime but rather to enforce the president’s “red line.”
The president should not use American military might to back his rhetoric especially when such rhetoric is not targeted to protect American lives or interests. Whether chemical weapons were used in Syria has no direct impact on either.
Congress should ask the mighty thinkers of the administration what would happen if these airstrikes precipitate Assad’s fall from power and Syria is taken over by radical Sunni extremists sympathetic to al-Qaida?
This would put the United States in the awkward position of having to defend military action that has brought its sworn enemy, al-Qaida, to power.
Congress need look no further than Libya where the United States played a pivotal role in removing Muammar Gaddafi from power and now watches as large portions of that country are being overtaken by armed gangs — and in the vacuum of lawlessness — al-Qaida gained a foothold in the process of murdering a U.S. ambassador.
The administration claims that there is a moderate Syrian opposition that has been backed by our allies in the Persian Gulf and Jordan that would be a “better” alternative to President Assad.
Congress should ask the president when was the last time any opposition group that had been backed by Arab states turned out to be moderate, secular, or democratic?
Qatar, one of our staunchest allies in the Persian Gulf, backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and professed that they would be inclusive and respect minorities. The brotherhood did neither.
The United States military and its precious resources should not be a tool to advance the geopolitical interests of Qatar or Saudi Arabia.
This is exactly what will happen if the Syrian regime falls.
The argument that the United States must intervene in Syria to deter other countries from using chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction is a canard.
Chemical weapons have been used since World War II on a number of occasions. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in the 1980s against Iranian forces multiple times during their eight-year war and then he again used them to put down a Kurdish uprising in Halabja.
The United States and many of the same outwardly raged players demanding military action now in Syria stood ideally by. They did so because it was not in their national interest to intervene against Iraq.
Republican members of Congress should ask Secretary of State John Kerry where his deep concern for humanity was in the 1980s when he was a member of the Senate and Saddam was gassing Kurds and Iranians with impunity?
Facts and history are clearly not on the administration’s side.
The administration — backed into a corner by President Obama’s “red line” rhetoric and under enormous pressure from Arab states in the Persian Gulf — has made a calculation that President Assad must go and they must find a way to justify U.S. intervention in another war in the Middle East.
An intervention that is not backed by the United Nation’s Security Council or by traditional American allies such as Great Britain — despite President Obama’s insistence that chemical weapons have been used against a civilian population at President Assad’s direction.
The American people remain unconvinced that the United States should get involved in the Syrian civil war. In poll after poll they reject air strikes by a 2-to-1 margin. With the hindsight of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan in the rear view mirror, the American people rightfully demand that their representatives ask the president why is it that American intervention is justified in a conflict that does not threaten American national security or jeopardize American lives?
After a decade of misadventure in the Middle East that has cost America trillions in treasure and thousands of lives haven’t the American people had enough? They have seen this horror movie before and are now giving its re-run two thumbs down.
Amir Handjani is an energy lawyer living and working in the U.A.E. and Washington D.C. He is also a senior advisor to Karv Communications, a strategic communications firm with a focus on corporate communications, crisis management, and public affairs.
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